Gilles Peterson

Gilles Peterson

The taste-shaping DJ/impresario journeys to Cuba


Originally published on on September 2009

Courtesy of Shalala

Courtesy of Shalala

Since first exporting the acid jazz movement to Japan 20 years ago, Gilles Peterson has been a regular visitor, becoming a sort of father figure to the club jazz scene here while hosting a weekday show on the J-Wave radio station.

Yet it’s not often that the English DJ is invited to spin at big electronic music raves. The ever-youthful but in fact middle-aged father of two sitting across from me at a Roppongi cafe has just finished performing at Metamorphose in the mountains of Izu.

“It’s always a bit disconcerting to come on after some thumping techno,” he says with a chuckle. “But I thrive on having a bit of an edge. I’m an instinctive DJ, and everything I do, whether it’s producing records or doing radio or clubs, leads into the other, and that’s what makes my sound.”

Peterson certainly seems to have the right instinct for shaping the musical zeitgeist, helping to launch the acid jazz and breakbeats movements with his Acid Jazz and Talkin’ Loud labels, and guiding world music into the mainstream through his influential Worldwide radio shows and countless albums as producer.

Which brings us to the topic at hand. In addition to playing Metamorphose, Peterson is also here to promote his forthcoming album, Gilles Peterson Presents Havana Cultura—New Cuba Sound, and October’s “Afro-Cuban Flava” J-Wave showcase at Liquidroom.

“The album was a really positive collaboration with a big brand—I think it’s the shape of things to come, because otherwise there’s no way to get the funding to do those sorts of records,” Peterson says, referring to the tie-up with rum giant Havana Club.

“They wanted to do a ‘Gilles Peterson in Africa’ type record with Cuba,” he continues. “I would never call myself an expert on Cuban music, so the chance to go there was too good to be true. The whole idea of the project was to celebrate new Cuban artists, rather than the kind of Buena Vista Social Club thing, which in a way has taken away from a modern Cuban sound.”

Peterson hooked up with young Cuban piano prodigy Roberto Fonseco, who guided four days of sessions at Cuba’s Egram, which Peterson calls “a legendary Electric Ladyland-meets-the-Vatican kind of studio in Havana.” With the help of a rotating cast of instrumentalists, singers and rappers, they put together 14 songs that build on a foundation of traditional salsa to take in contemporary reggaeton and hip-hop.

The October concert will follow in the Cuban spirit, with Japan-based unit Salsa Swingoza, jazz outfit Quasimode and electro-groove band Cro-magnon sharing a bill with a slew of Japan’s best- known club jazz DJs, many of whom, such as UFO and Kyoto Jazz Massive, Peterson has worked with for years.

“When I first came in 1989, there was no club culture, and over the 20 years I’ve seen it develop to the point where it’s become one of the best in the world,” Peterson says, citing in particular the influence of the much-mourned club Yellow, which shut its doors last year.

With the Worldwide showcase series, Peterson says he’s trying to bring it all back home. “For me, it’s really about celebrating local music and giving it back to Japan, and saying thank you to the listeners who made the show so successful,” he says. “It’s amazing because I never thought I’d get weeks—let alone four years—on J-Wave, Tokyo’s number one station. I’m not really meant to be on stations like that in the afternoon. It’s quite brave of them to throw me on. I wouldn’t get away with it in England.”

Gilles Peterson Presents Havana Cultura—New Cuba Sound is available on Brownswood/Beat Records. “Gilles Peterson Worldwide” is broadcast on J-Wave (81.3 FM), Mon-Thu (4:05-4:20pm), Fri (4-6am).

“Afro-Cuban Flava!”
Selection of Latin-influenced groups presented by London-based DJ Gilles Peterson. Oct 23, 7pm, ¥5,500 (adv)/¥6,000 (door). Liquidroom, Ebisu. Tel: 03-5464-0800.